Dubai: As more and more Chinese smartphone makers enter the global market, questions are being increasingly asked about their ties to the Chinese government.

OPPO, a Chinese company that just this year moved its regional headquartered to Dubai, gets right to the point.

“OPPO is a completely private company,” says Andy Shi, President of OPPO Middle East and Africa. “So I think it’s very important for us as a private company to offer the best level of security and privacy to our users, and that is accomplished by, not just by us, but with our international partners, which include Qualcomm, Google and other companies.”

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Shi says that with the company’s new regional hub in Dubai, OPPO can give better support to the GCC markets. Image Credit: Atiq Ur Rehman /Gulf News

While Huawei is arguably the most recognisable Chinese smartphone maker, partly because of accusations by the US that the company is a security risk due to its relation to the Chinese government, OPPO is very well-known inside China. It was China’s biggest smartphone company in 2016 and is the fifth-largest smartphone company globally. It is also is a well-known brand in Southeast Asia and North Africa. OPPO first entered the Middle East and North African market in 2014, focusing on Morocco, Algeria and Egypt. Now the company is focusing on the Middle East and the GCC is particular.

“We feel it’s the right time to move our focus from North Africa to the Middle East, which is why we moved our regional office from Cairo to Dubai to better look after the new markets here,” Shi says. “With this new regional hub we can give better support to our GCC markets.”

While OPPO entered parts of the GCC in 2014, the company had put off entering Saudi Arabia, which Shi says is a critical market due to its size, until this year.

Unlike other Chinese phone makers who have done well selling phones in the low- to medium-end market, OPPO will only be offering premium devices.

“Here in the GCC, people prefer premium devices and people are more tech savvy so we are offering a whole new phone series, which is Reno, which we launched in April,” Shi said. “This is a more expansive and more premium device than the devices we give to other markets.” Shi said the company will be targeting “young, urban, stylish people who like photography and creative things. We think it is a very good fit for the urban lifestyle of the GCC states.”

We feel it’s the right time to move our focus from North Africa to the Middle East, which is why we moved our regional office.

- Andy Shi | President of OPPO Middle East and Africa

He said the reason the company is not focusing on lower-end devices is that “only at a certain price point can you made sure the user experience is a good one.”

To target the younger demographic, OPPO launched a Ramadan movie on YouTube earlier this year, which played up the regional focus on space exploration.

“It really fits with what is happening in this markets,” he said. Shi says the company is currently researching other marketing campaigns for the region and has “big plans” for later this year.

Another area of focus for the company is smartphone photography.

“We do a lot of research to make sure that the look and feel of our photography meets the needs of our young audience,” Shi said. “The rising camera is very unique and stands out from the market.”

The rising camera, which social media has dubbed “the fin,” is a forward facing camera that stays hidden until the camera is turned on. When activated, it rises from top of the camera, looking like a shark fin. While Shi wouldn’t give specifics, he says that OPPO will be doing more in this area.

“We’re always trying to do something new,” he said. “The shark fin for this year is still cutting edge, but next year we will try to come up with something unique, completely changing how people define the look of the phone. We always want to give people interesting choices in terms of phone design.”

Ironically, the fin means the Reno line of phone is not waterproof, due to the moving parts. Shi says that is an issue for some markets, noticeably Japan, but not the Middle East.

Asked if the currently problems facing Huawei could open opportunities in the market for his brand, Shi says the focus is still on getting to know the consumers in the UAE.

“I think we should focus on what the local consumers are looking for,” he said. “We just moved to Dubai and we want to do a very differentiating marketing campaign from the competition.”